A person can play a very competitive game of tennis with their friend and try as hard as possible to beat them. But, when the last point is scored, they’ll walk to the net, shake hands, say “good game” — and mean it.
This is how an analytical person views thought. When they disagree with someone, they want to be met by an equal and volley ideas back and forth. They want to win. But when the conversation is over, it’s over. They’re ready to hit the showers and go back to being BFFs. Unfortunately, they can often be met with a friend who isn’t as ready to leave the conversation on the court and forget about it.
My first real boss was a 40-something lively, vivacious woman with a Ph.D. from Oxford. We were headed to a restaurant where we were going to have dinner with our board while they were in town and she said, “Most people would tell you not to talk about religion and politics at dinner, but where’s the fun in that?” Sure enough, that’s all anyone wanted to talk about. But these were all academics, it’s like going to dinner with an athlete and expecting to talk about their sport. It doesn’t carry over to normal people.
For most people, ideas are not sports. Ideas are emotional and we become quite attached to the ones we hold. Attached enough that bringing up an opposite opinion to simply explore the idea or play devil’s advocate will hurt their feelings, or at least annoy them. It’s a very normal reaction to have, but it brings about a certain loneliness for someone who wants to talk about everything.
It’s hard to hurt someone’s feelings without intending to. Especially when, if the tables were turned you’d be completely fine with it, thrilled even. It makes you feel a little less human. It makes you feel very alone in your disposition. Why should something be off limits? Why can’t we just ask questions? Because, not everyone’s brain works the same way.
I’m not trying to elevate myself and other logical people as more intelligent than others or say “look at all these people having emotional reactions instead of being rational!” Emotions are good, human things and being an analytical person has no correlation to how intelligent you are. It’s a personality preference like any other. Preferring to talk about sports doesn’t mean you’re automatically good at them, it just means you’re interested.
And analytical people are interested in understanding, and to understand you need to look at things from different angles. You need to ask questions. You need to delve further into a thought than simply, “it’s just wrong.” The problem is living in a world where your excitement can hurt people who see your continued conversation as a doubting their personal beliefs. Where, in your eagerness to understand something you come across seeming uncaring or brash.
And the onus is on us here, to try to read people in every conversation. To test the waters before we dive in — or risk the uncomfortableness of hurting someone you’re not trying to hurt. In order to preserve the feelings of those around you, you’ve got to silence some of your own.